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How do the leading companies frame their role in contributing to a sustainable world?

I had a conversation about this today with someone, for reasons I can’t go into. We were discussing this key question, which is not a new one, but is ever more relevant. I dashed off a few notes, without any further research, and so I’ve pasted them below, for better or worse. I was thinking about basic process/comms approaches really, rather than the nitty-gritty of what 150 odd targets or metrics looks like (which of course have to be super specific)

So here’s my notes, I’m sure I missed something/got something wrong here. Let me know if you can.

They have a clear name for what they want, which is memorable and sits above their focused objectives based on metrics. It’s a (partial) sense of purpose e.g.:

M&S ‘Plan A’

Unilever ‘Sustainable Living Plan’

Mars ‘Sustainable In a Generation’ plan

Patagonia / Interface purpose/approach.

These are all fundamentally easy to see, understand and remember what they are trying to do.

They (the above and others) all have done the following things (using the process, or variations of, outlined in a previous post)

  • Spent time thinking about their role in a changing world (for Bayer these are areas such as: Smallholder commitments/transformation/enabling / Products and services that are innovative / Plant and climate innovation that will lead to sustainable outcomes (gene editing to smarter inputs)
  • Engaged experts in different areas (e.g. the above) for their views (the process you should embark on now, which we’ve been discussing)
  • Formulated plans and tested them as much as possible/benchmarked/consulted
  • Rolled out and measured
  • Set timings for re-iteration, adjustment and reported on progress along the way.
  • (rest of process in previous post)

In terms of communications, the leaders all do the same things:

  1. Engage publicly and consistently over a long period (years)
  2. Have a simple message, with detail underneath where appropriate / needed/agreed upon
  3. Use partners, partnerships and engagement to add credibility
  4. Be transparent about shortcomings, areas they don’t know how to fix, are disarming in self-criticism
  5. Have mechanisms in place (critical friends, roundtables, unofficial and official/public/meetings where they can gain constant feedback)
  6. Show top level buy in and understanding. CEO and senior executives are available and knowledgable about the plans/objectives.
  7. Talk to investors and talk about how they talk to investors about their plans. They don’t have siloed comms.
  8. Use social and media consistently to avoid confusion, and keep re-iterating their main goal in every area of communications. i.e. show how it all links up.
  9. Have a humble tone, acknowledging purchasing and market/end user power/influence but are inclusive in how they do this, and don’t pretend to know all the answers.

I could go on, but I’ll leave this list here. Look forward to thoughts.


Here’s a date for your diary. Innovation Forum’s ‘Positive Impact Forum‘ will take place in London on 18th-19th June.

This two-day business conference will explore practical examples of companies demonstrating both purpose and positive impact across key areas of social and environmental performance. We’ll highlight leading initiatives and the systems in place to determine the full value of these sustainability programmes.

The 2019 forum will be made up of plenary sessions, case-studies, working groups and in-depth Q&A’s. No PPT, no boring speeches. Instead we will robustly debate issues such as:

  • Purpose vs Risk: How do you move your board from risk obsessives to purpose advocates?
  • Sustainable Development Goals and Science Based Targets: How do you use them effectively to catalyse action, and unlock budgets
  • Impact valuation: The latest tools and methodologies to understand the impact and ROI of sustainability programmes
  • Supplier data that drives performance: The tools available to measure and manage the impact of supplier programmes
  • ESG priorities: Leading company initiatives to tackle key issues, including GHGs, plastics pollution, diversity and more
  • Is the impact of the Blackrock letters overrated? A look at how investor expectations are evolving
  • Current and future generations: What do they want from companies that EVERYONE should take note of? A look at youth vs millennial research – and activism trends
  • Purpose driven communication or impact washing: How companies can convince the stakeholders that matter

Have a look through the full agenda here.

Already confirmed to participate include senior professionals from: Vodafone, Aviva, Mastercard, BT, Pirelli, Mars, FerreroJacobs, JLL, Hermes Investment Management, DiageoM&G InvestmentsLondon Business SchoolPimcoMultiplexIHGFAIRR InitiativeFirst State Investments, Future-Fit Foundation and more to be revealed soon.

If you would like to join, take advantage of our launch rate with a £400 discount (ends this Friday, 29th March). Registration details can be found here

We strongly encourage delegates to join as a team to ensure that you don’t miss anything across the various breakout sessions. Please get in touch if this is of interest!


Sheniz Mushtaq | Project Director

Innovation Forum: events and insight for sustainability

+44 (0) 203 780 7434